East Bay Express, April 5, 2006
Out, Damned Pesto Spot!
Shotgun does Macbeth as a pair of overambitious
parents questing for the perfect preschool.
Macbeth meets the soccer mom set in a clash of juice-boxes in the
Shotgun Players' Bright Ideas, which probes just how far parents
will go to ensure their children's happiness. Lie? Cheat? Maim?
Kill? Don't laugh, it's not that much of a stretch. In France, Christophe
Fauviau is on trial for drugging his daughter's tennis rivals, leading
to one man's death at the wheel. In the UK, Maxine Bell's parents
were so upset she'd been told she couldn't wear her nose ring to
school that they came in and threatened the headmistress with bodily
harm and ended up in jail. Over here, the news brims with stories
of parents threatening, beating, and even shooting their children's
Playwright Eric Coble nimbly smushes together Shakespeare's tale
of a couple twisted beyond redemption and the hunt for the perfect
preschool like the halves of a PB&J on organic whole-wheat bread.
Joshua and Genevra Bradley have been told that the person their
son Mac is on his fourth birthday is the person he will be as an
adult. Which means, obviously, that he must be in the perfect preschool,
coached past any real or imagined insufficiency, and videotaped
every second of his young life.
Oh, and what about that formative fourth birthday party? The zoo's
okay for that, another mother tells them dismissively, "if
you don't mind the smell of the monkey house." So the couple
sets out to erase every obstacle, from irritating co-workers to
recalcitrant teachers. The Macbeth references are legion. There's
talk of never being able to wash out a spot (in Shakespeare, it's
blood; here it's pesto), a sleepwalking murderer, children named
"Mac" and "Duncan," even a ghost at the banquet.
Besides catching the Bardic references, it's fascinating watching
as Genevra and Joshua's journeys part and intersect and part again.
Which one is murderous and which one remorseful varies from moment
to moment; although they have pledged to be "partners in greatness"
it looks like the partnership started to slip once their child was
old enough to be sent out into the world. Ben Ortega is amiable
as Joshua, who artlessly comments to another parent that sure, he
and Genevra have a camcorder — in the bedroom on the nightstand.
Anna Ishida's Genevra moves from harried and basically good to cool
and calculating to vicious and bloodthirsty along a track that would
seem like too much if Coble hadn't taken the time to address vexing
questions of class and the immigrant experience.
The rest of the cast play two and three characters each, from denim-smocked
teachers to a harried flight attendant (Calum Grant), Genevra's
snooty co-worker (Melanie Case) and a passel of parents. One standout
is Rami Margon's main character Lynzie, who wields a smile like
a Prozac-addled Muppet and the splayed walk of a heavily pregnant
woman. But Lynzie opens up into a lioness herself, once the shit
starts to hit the leafblower. "Safety seems hard to come by
in your family," she notes archly, not too long before a Dave
Maier-built swordfight in a Chuck E. Cheese facsimile.
Nasty fun, this story of a couple moving from poisoned pasta to
birthday cake at gunpoint has a certain ring of truth, even if there
are also ghosts, a giant rapping beaver, and a set reminiscent of
a Unitarian Universalist church circa 1979, all burgundy and orange
flying geese and plastic chairs. Parents who have tried to wrestle
their kids into the most exclusive schools will get it; people without
kids might decide to stay that way.